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Rubio, Murphy to face off in Florida U.S. Senate race

Wasserman Schultz beats back Bernie-allied rival; Corrine Brown out

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

florida mugGAINESVILLE, Florida (CFP) — U.S. Senator Marco Rubio handily won renomination in Florida’s Republican primary and will face Democratic U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy in a race that will help determine which party controls the Senate.

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio

Rubio took 72 percent in the August 30 vote, easily defeating businessman Carlos Beruff, who garnered just 18 percent. On the Democratic side, Murphy was the clear winner, taking 60 percent of the vote, compared to just 18 percent for his main challenger, U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson.

The bad news for Grayson continued, as his wife’s attempt to keep his 9th District U.S. House seat in the family sputtered in the Democratic primary.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz

Meanwhile, in South Florida’s 23rd District, Democratic U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz  beat back a challenge from Tim Canova, turning aside an effort by angry Bernie Sanders supporters to force her from Congress over accusations that she, as chair of the Democratic National Committee, showed favoritism to Hillary Clinton in the presidential race.

Wasserman Schultz took 57 percent to 43 percent for Canova, who spent more than $3 million trying to unseat the veteran congresswoman.

U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown

U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown

However, another veteran Democrat was not as fortunate. U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, who was indicted on corruption charges in July, was defeated in the 5th District primary by Al Lawson, a former state legislator from Tallahassee, in what was likely the last chapter in a 34-year-long political career.

Lawson won 48 percent to 40 percent for Brown.

A redraw of state’s congressional map, ordered by the Florida Supreme Court, substantially altered Brown’s district, forcing her to run in  a swath of new territory outside of her Jacksonville base. Federal prosecutors have also accused Brown of conspiring with her chief of staff to convert a scholarship fund into a private slush fund used to pay for her political promotion and personal expenses. She has denied the charges.

Rubio initially decided to give up his Senate seat to pursue the Republican presidential nomination. But after his White House aspirations fizzled, he reversed course, prompting the departure of three of the four major candidates then in the race, all but Beruff.

Speaking to supporters in Kissimmee, the senator dismissed Murphy as an “old-fashioned liberal” handpicked for the Senate by Democratic leaders and a dilettante whose wealth family has given him “everything he’s every wanted.”

“If Patrick Murphy wants to be a U.S. Senator, he’s going to have to earn it by beating the son of a bartender and a maid who came to this country in search of a better life,” he said, employing details from his own biography that were a staple of his run for president.

But speaking to his supporters in Palm Beach County, Murphy criticized Rubio for his poor attendance in the Senate while he was running for president.

“Marco Rubio is the worst of Washington because he puts himself first every time,” Murphy said. “He gave up on his job. He gave up on Florida.”

Murphy also pounced on Rubio’s statement on CNN a day before the primary that he would not commit to serving his full Senate term, saying “no one can make that commitment because you don’t know what the future’s going hold in your life personally or politically.”

Murphy retorted: “Guess what, senator. I’ve got two words for you. I can.”

In his battle against Grayson, Murphy — who was a registered Republican until 2012, when he switched parties to run for Congress — had the backing of virtually all of the Democratic establishment, including the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson

U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson

Party leaders were fearful that a victory by the outspoken Grayson — who regularly subjects reporters to profanity-laden tirades and once had to apologize after calling a female lobbyist “a K Street whore” — would spell disaster in November.

During the primary campaign, Grayson also faced domestic abuse allegations made by his ex-wife. He denied ever hitting her, but the story prompted two liberal groups — Democracy for America and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee — to reverse their endorsements.

In the end, Grayson not only lost to Murphy by more than 40 points but also barely edged out a lesser known candidate, political newcomer Pam Keith, for second place. Keith had snagged a surprise endorsement from one of Florida’s largest newspapers, The Miami Herald.

In addition to helping torpedo Brown in the 5th District, the new map made the 2nd District, which takes in the middle of the Florida Panhandle, more Republican, prompting Democratic U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham to retire.

After a nasty campaign with substantial spending by outside groups, Republicans chose Neal Dunn, a Panama City urologist, over Mary Thomas, a state government lawyer from Tallahassee. Dunn took 41 percent to 39 percent for Thomas, who was trying to become the first Indian-American woman ever elected to Congress.

After Grayson gave up his 9th District to run for the Senate, both his wife, Dena Grayson, and one of his top aides, Susannah Randolph, launched campaigns to succeed him. But State Senator Darren Soto beat them both in the Democratic primary, which is tantamount to election in the heavily Democratic Orlando-based district.

Grayson took 36 percent of the vote, compared to 18 percent each for Randolph and Dina Grayson.

In the 18th District, which Murphy gave up to run for the Senate, Democrats selected Randy Perkins, a multimillionaire businessman from Delray Beach, while Republicans went with Brian Mast, an Army veteran who lost both his legs while serving as a bomb disposal specialist in Afghanistan.

The 18th District, which takes in parts of Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast, is likely to be a genuine toss-up in November.

The 26th District, which takes in the Florida Keys and southwest Miami-Dade County, will feature a rematch between Republican U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo and the man he beat in 2014, former Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia.

While Curbelo was unopposed in the GOP primary, Garcia eaked out an 800-vote win over  Annette Taddeo in the Democratic primary.

New U.S. House map sets off scramble in Florida

As many as seven seats could be in play after a court-ordered redraw

By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

florida mugGAINESVILLE, Florida (CFP) — The weather may not be the only thing that’s hot this summer in Florida.

Thanks to new House map ordered by the Florida Supreme Court, as many as seven of the state’s 27 U.S. House seats might be in play as the filing period for congressional races begins June 24.

Republicans appear poised to take away one seat that’s now Democratic; Democrats are likely to capture two GOP-held seats. Further complicating the mix are the departure of four sitting House members who are all running for an open Senate seat.

Although Florida is a quintessential swing state, Republicans hold a 17-10 advantage in the congressional delegation, thanks to maps drawn by the GOP-controlled legislature.

The Supreme Court struck down the previous map on the grounds that it violated a state constitutional amendment prohibiting gerrymandering. The new map ordered by the high court had a domino effect on districts statewide, although it put relatively few safe seats into play.

Here are seven seats to watch in November:

Graham

Graham

Florida 2: This seat, anchored in the Florida Panhandle around Tallahassee, is currently held by Democratic U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham. The court removed a chunk of black voters and part of Tallahassee from the district in order to redraw the adjacent 5th District, making what had been a swing seat substantially more Republican.

Graham, the only Democrat to take away a Republican seat anywhere in the South in 2014, looked at her odds and decided not to run again. The GOP seems poised to pick up a seat here.

Brown

Brown

Florida 5: This seat, which belongs to Democratic U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, was the primary offender in the Supreme Court ruling that the House map was unconstitutional. As drawn by legislators, it began in Jacksonville and snaked down to Orlando–at one point, the width of a highway–to maximize its black population.

Over Brown’s strenuous objections, the justices ordered an extreme makeover; the district now starts in Jacksonville and heads due west to Tallahassee, making it less black and more Republican. But Brown is running again, and it remains to be seen whether the changes will be enough to sink her. She faces the additional hurdle of two Democratic primary challengers in the reconfigured district.

Mica

Mica

Florida 7: Republican U.S. Rep. John Mica is running again in this district in suburban Orlando. But he now has some of the Democratic voters who used to be in Brown’s 5th District, making this district much less safe that it was. The question will be whether any brand-name Democrats will file to take on the 11-term lawmaker. If not, he’s probably headed back to Washington.

Webster

Webster

Florida 10: This Orland0-area district, now held by Republican U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster, was made substantially more Democratic in the redraw–so much so that Webster opted to run for re-election in the adjacent 11th District, where U.S. Rep. Rich Nugent is retiring. This seat will most likely flip Democratic.

Florida 13: This swing district in the Tampa Bay area, now held by Republican U.S. Rep. David Jolly, was also redrawn to add a portion of St. Petersburg with a large minority population, making it more Democratic. Rather than try to defend it, Jolly opted to run for the U.S. Senate.

Crist

Crist

The big name in this race is former Florida Governor Charlie Crist, the Republican-turned-independent-turned-Democrat who is trying to make a political comeback after losing the governor’s race in 2014. Crist would seem to be the favorite here, although his recent lack of electoral success should give Republicans some hope.

Murphy

Murphy

Florida 18: This seat, which includes part of Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast, is a classic swing district now held by Democratic U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy. Murphy is giving it up to run for the U.S. Senate, which has put this seat at the top of the GOP’s target list. Depending on who emerges from crowded primaries on both sides, this race should be a toss-up come November.

Taddeo

Taddeo

Garcia

Garcia

Curbelo

Curbelo

Florida 26: Like the 18th District, this seat, which includes southwest Miami-Dade County and the Florida Keys, has gone back and forth between the parties in recent cycles. The incumbent, Republican U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, is likely to face a rematch against the man he beat in 2014, former Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia, although Garcia is going to have to get past Annette Taddeo in the primary.

In what was seen as a major snub of Garcia, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the fundraising arm of House Democrats, is backing Taddeo, a party leader from Miami who was the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor in 2014.

Democrats need to make a net gain of four seats in order to secure a majority in the Florida delegation. If the 2nd, 10th, and 13th districts flip as expected, that would give Democrats a net gain of one seat. So they would have to defeat Mica, keep Brown’s seat and take the toss-up seats in the 18th and 26th districts in order to flip control their way.

That would seem to be a tall order, although the unpredictability of the presidential race could make the improbable probable.

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